Daily Features

In Their Own Words: George Nelson, Charles Eames, and Alexander Girard

In newly restored recordings, curator Mickey Friedman revisits the designers’ Sample Lesson for a new type of arts education.

By Jennifer Krichels, Superscript October 3, 2013

Yesterday, furniture manufacturer Herman Miller added a new installment to its online publication Why, which it launched this summer as a platform for discussions about design. In the site’s latest piece, “Lessons Learned,” Amber Bravo examines the story behind three audio recordings of legendary furniture designers George Nelson, Charles Eames, and Alexander Girard discussing their groundbreaking 1952 “Sample Lesson” lecture, which proposed a new, multimedia approach to arts education that involved film, slides, sound, music, narration, and even smell.


A photograph taken during the Sample Lesson's six-day run at UCLA, which followed its premiere in Georgia. The program drew huge audiences by its third day; among the audience members was Mildred “Mickey” Friedman, a young graduate student at the time.

The lecture evolved out of Nelson’s proposal that the University of Georgia in Athens adopt a new arts education policy aimed less at professional training and more at students’ interests. As Bravo reports:

He advocated that by using mechanized aids like slides, film, and audio, the learning experience could be expedited and augmented. “It was perfectly clear that much time was being wasted through methods originally developed for other purposes,” he explains. “For example, one class was finishing a two-week exercise demonstrating that a given color is not a fixed quantity to the eye but appears to change according to the colors around it. In a physics class, such a point would have been made in about five minutes with a simple apparatus, and just as effectively.”

Nelson began working with Eames and then Girard to put together a sample lecture that would demonstrate their ideas about a new curriculum. After debuting the lesson in Georgia, the Sample Lesson filled an auditorium at UCLA for six days—but that was the end of its run.

The Book

Problems of Design George Nelson

A graduate student at the time, Mildred “Mickey” Friedman was one of the lucky few who got to attend the trio's lecture. Two years after becoming the design curator at The Walker Art Center, Friedman began research for a new exhibition entitled Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller. Traveling the country to visit each designer in preparation for the 1975 exhibition, she revisited the topic of the Sample Lesson with each, revealing their impressions of the event and its lasting effect on their own work. Herman Miller's newly restored audio recordings of each interview are available below:

Charles and Ray Eames on "The Sample Lesson"

George Nelson on "The Sample Lesson"

Alexander Girard on "The Sample Lesson"

Eames-designed Sample Lesson graphic. © 2013 Eames Office LLC (eamesoffice.com)

An image from the Nelson/Eames/Girard/Propst: The Design Process at Herman Miller exhibition curated by Mickey Friedman, then design curator at The Walker Art Center, in 1975.


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